Introduction: Why Pastoral?
Why pastoral indeed. Why should what Paul Alpers calls a ‘notoriously conventional’ (79) form of imaginative expression be attracting the interest of writers and scholars in recent times? Alpers is gesturing towards Samuel Johnson’s itself notorious criticism of Milton’s Lycidas, but the statement puts its finger on the peculiar nature of the pastoral tradition, especially as seen from a contemporary perspective. Unlike tragedy or comedy, pastoral carries a particular (conventional) character set – shepherds or their equivalent – and always involves a particular (conventional) relationship to place. How does a set of quite specific – and unlikely – elements involving shepherds and song contests take hold and survive across the centuries in Western literature, art and music? How do we account for what W.W. Greg, in his remarkably Modernist work of criticism, Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama (1906), calls the ‘strange vitality’ (2) of the form? This collection of essays, drawn from papers delivered at a conference on ‘The Afterlives of Pastoral’ (University of Queensland 2014), is motivated by the desire to understand what pastoral might mean in contemporary writing and scholarship.
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